Absence(s)Left - Tammy Meeuwissen. Photo - Georg Tassev

The sun setting behind me, I sit on the street with a crowd of strangers, car headlights intermittently flashing in my eyes. I wait.

“Excuse me”

A woman corrects my chair.

Laughter. People around me chatter, waiting for the performance to start.

“Five foot eight and a half …Strawberry blond hair …small mole”

Another woman. Identifying herself.

“Blue eyes …If I drink lots of rum they get really blue”

“Size twelve”

“Shoe size eight and a half. Sometimes nine”

They have our attention now - four performers, naming themselves part by part, claiming the space chair by chair. Brief declarations, and they are gone. Down the street and out of sight. We wait. Names are called, group by group, and we are asked to walk off into the night with strangers.

So begins Absence(s), a new work by choreographer Clare Dyson at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane until Saturday.

Absence(s) is a work that moves between worlds – physically, spatially and symbolically. We are taken, group by group, from the street outside the theatre to another space. Instructions inside little plastic bags we have been given earlier tell us to place our belongings inside, put them by the door, and enter. The space is long, sparse, cut down the centre by a plastic sheet, and a woman stares out from her lounge chair at a sea of abandoned belongings that lie along one side. A pile of clothes here, a pile of shoes there, barred windows, and dozens of black-and-white images of the ‘disappeared’ staring out from the wall, there is something eerily reminiscent of Auschwitz here. As we move forward – past the plastic sheet, up a staircase, and back into all those belongings – performers appear, stare at us, talk to us, taken sometimes by seemingly random snatches of movement. Shadows, voices, tell us others are here too.

The dominant impression in Absence(s) is one of unseen worlds, unseen presences. I can’t see them, but I can sense them, through the movements of the performers for whom they are all too violently, viscerally present. The performers speak – about bodies, scars, memories, missing loved ones, stone cold spaces. Then, suddenly, their eyes glaze, and strange movements grab them, unseen forces from above, behind and below. The sequences extend, the performers working in pairs and trios, their movement patterns layered with images and words projected on their bodies, the plastic, and the wall behind.

Absence(s) is a work that cannot be seen all at once. It is a deliberate attempt by Dyson to test the links between content and form, to discomfort the audience, and provoke feelings of isolation, apprehension and disconnection. Watching Absence(s) I did feel distanced by a work so often operating in realms absent to me – behind the plastic sheet, in another part of the space, in the performers’ imaginations. While it was at times a little intellectual in its conception, and slow to bring me into its journey, the sequences in the installation space held my interest, producing a moment by moment experience of worlds beyond, worlds apart, the different spaces we occupy, and the different things we see.

by Clare Dyson

Venue: Off site : Promenade Theatre (Instructions will be given by box office staff on the night)
Dates/Time: 21 - 24 February 2007. Meet at Judith Wright Centre Foyer by 7.15pm - transport departs 7.30pm sharp
Tickets: $10
Bookings: www.judithwrightcentre.com or 07 3872 9000. Seating Limited tickets each night - pre booking is essential

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